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Thursday, 13 December, 2018

Ten things you didn't know about Tingle Creek

Tingle Creek: two-mile star, seen here in typical spring-heeled form at favourite track Sandown, was one of the most popular jumpers of the last 50 years
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1 Racing enthusiasts of a certain age go misty-eyed over memories of the utterly spectacular Tingle Creek.

Exuberance personified, the two-mile star lit up the 1970s jumps scene with a series of fearless front-running displays characterised by the incredible boldness of his jumping. The flamboyant chestnut with the white face and noseband won 23 of his 52 races in Britain, all but two of them chases. He never fell in seven seasons.

2 A lightly made type who loved fast ground, Tingle Creek did not look like a steeplechaser and nor was he bred to be one. His sire was the US sprinter-miler Goose Creek, a half-brother to the dam of Mill Reef. He won five jump races in his native America before being sent to Britain.

3 He habitually gave away huge amounts of weight in small-field handicap chases, often shouldering 12st 7lb and still leading rivals a merry dance when the ground was on the faster side (though he also won on soft). Never more so than in 1973-74, when he won five handicaps at Chepstow, Doncaster, Punchestown and Sandown (twice). No opponent headed him in those races, and few got anywhere near him. At Punchestown he gave 16lb to subsequent dual Champion Chase winner Skymas.

Tingle Creek after bowing out with a track-record victory at Sandown in November 1978

4 His spiritual home was Sandown, where the tricky test of jumping played to his strengths – especially down the back straight where the Railway fences come thick and fast. He ran in the Sandown Handicap Pattern Chase six years in a row, winning three times and coming second the other three; he broke the track record every time he won the race, including in a five-length success after yet another breathtaking exhibition on his final start at the age of 12 in November 1978, when the ground was officially described as hard.

5 Contrary to widespread misconception, the two-mile race named after Tingle Creek at Sandown in early December is not a descendant of the Sandown Pattern Chase. That race, a limited handicap, was renamed the Holsten Export Lager Handicap Chase in 1983; it lost its sponsorship after its 1986 running (won by Desert Orchid) and became an ordinary handicap. The current Tingle Creek Chase is a different race at a later Sandown meeting. It started as the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup in 1969, became the Mecca Bookmakers' Handicap Chase in 1977, the Tingle Creek Handicap Chase in 1979, and a level-weights Grade 1 race in 1994. Tingle Creek won it under 12st 5lb in 1973.

6 Top jockeys' agent Tony Hind, who masterminded Jim Crowley's successful title bid this summer, led up Tingle Creek during a spell as a stable lad at trainer Tom Jones's Newmarket yard.

He never liked Cheltenham, failing to win in six starts there. In four attempts at the 7 Two-Mile Champion Chase he did best when second to Royal Relief in 1974 – yet he frequently gave weight and a beating to Champion Chase principals when he met them elsewhere on faster ground. "He was a top-class performer, on occasions the best two-mile chaser around when conditions were in his favour," wrote Timeform in their essay after his retirement in Chasers & Hurdlers of 1978-79.

8 After an eight-month layoff in September 1977 he was beaten by the moderate Old Chad, who was getting 41lb. "Retire Tingle Creek before the rot sets in," wrote the Sporting Life's race reporter. Two weeks later, the horse defied 12st 7lb at Fontwell to beat subsequent Champion Chase runner-up Menehall (getting 4lb) by 20 lengths.

Together again: Tingle Creek and Steve Smith Eccles reunited at Sandown in 1994; the great horse paraded every year before the race named in his honour

9 In 1977, Steve Smith Eccles became Tingle Creek's third regular jockey in Britain, following David Mould and Ian Watkinson. Smith Eccles, who rode See You Then to a Champion Hurdle hat-trick in 1985-87, names Tingle Creek as his favourite horse, saying: "He was absolutely unbelievable. I never rode a more exciting jumper. There was no such thing as 'steady away' with him - he was flat out from start to finish and he would just eat fences. He never seemed to meet a fence wrong, never had to fiddle it, seemed to hurdle his fences with his front legs up around his ears. He met them right, long or effing long!"

10 The plan was for Tingle Creek to enter the hunting field after his retirement. It never happened; in fact, he never left Tom Jones's stable and lived out his retirement there, leading the two-year-olds and turning up every year at the head of the parade before 'his' race at Sandown. He died aged 30 in 1996.


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The two-mile star lit up the 1970s jumps scene with a series of fearless front-running displays
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